Cape Kidnappers to Host Two World-Class Entertaining Maestros

By Sarah Downs
Bruce Keebaugh. Picture / Supplied

After a weekend spent at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers later this year, a slew of fabulous parties may just follow your return home.

The boutique getaway is flying in two of the world’s best entertaining maestros none other than one of Australia’s best party planners Bruce Keebaugh and royal wedding florist Shane Connolly for a two-night stay of masterclasses, wine, food, and fun.

Bruce will share his hospitality skills and behind-the-scenes stories in a party-and-events masterclass. For the founder of Melbourne’s top catering and events company, The Big Group, throwing the most lavish of bashes everywhere from Capri to the Middle East is simply a way of life.

While Shane will host a two-hour workshop, marking the first trip to New Zealand for one of London’s leading floral designer. He usually lends his genius arrangements to gallery openings, fashionable soirees and the occasional royal wedding. Shane was behind the incredible trees inside Westminster Abbey for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s nuptials.

Melbourne's hospo extraordinaire

Can you take us through a day in your life?
I have a day job and a night job. I don't have an office, so I spend my days travelling and meeting clients and at night I do a quick black-tie change to attend and orchestrate fabulous parties. My wife and I attend up to 17 events a week where I'm either being the highest paid waiter in the world or chief sandwich maker!

What's a standout event you've done?
A housewarming in Kuwait. They shipped almost 200, 400-year-old olive trees from Spain for the garden, under which we created a lavish cushioned marketplace with stalls full of produce, providores and vignettes to enchant the guests. It was breathtaking.

Picture / Supplied
Picture / Supplied

Most iconic destination?
I always love Buenos Aires and India and adore the parties in the South of France, Capri, Amalfi and Mykonos. But the most unbelievable work is in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, where we collaborate with another agency to produce events that are beyond my wildest dreams.

Any on-site divas?
Liza Minnelli was a trick. We bought her in to perform for a client and she requested a space with only pure oxygen to protect her voice. This wasn't the easiest thing to arrange but we found a speciality tent from Antarctica which did the job. We were proud to meet her expectations, however, on arrival, she went straight into the tent and lit up one Marlboro cigarette after the next. I was less concerned about her voice than the lighter mixing with the oxygen, causing an explosion. I didn't want to be responsible for killing Liza!

Your best food set-up?
For a 2000 guest wedding in Abu Dhabi, we created a 1.2 km long edible dessert garden laden with edible flowers, ladybirds, bumble bees, moss, mushrooms, chocolate bark and soil.

Picture / Supplied
Picture / Supplied

Top party tips?
Have the best people in the tightest space with the best music some great food and loads of vodka. And, if that doesn't work, call The Big Group.

The worst thing about your job?
The hours and travel are unrelenting but I have an enormous amount of energy and passion for what I do. Occasionally I need to head to the health spa or hike in the bush for a week.

What keeps you in the game?
Passion and the people, plus I have really great stories at dinner parties.

What can guests expect from you at Cape Kidnappers?
We're going to have a wonderful dinner and laugh at the behind-the-scenes stories of a 1001 parties. We'll delve into why events work and why they don't.

Shane Connolly. Picture / Supplied
Shane Connolly. Picture / Supplied

London's favoured floral designer

Can you describe your design aesthetic?
Nature is the trademark of my design. I am guided by season and locality. My philosophy is "the abundance of less". I also don't do trends. It's better to think of style over fashion and innovation over repetition.

What did the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge pick for their big day? 
Everything was seasonal and chosen for its symbolism. Foliage and flowering shrubs from the Royal Estates of Sandringham and Windsor were used above the altar and at the entrance to The Abbey. The famous trees and climbers like wisteria were used and could be planted in the family gardens afterwards. As were carpets of lily of the valley at the base of the trees, which went back to the estates and still grow today.

Picture / Supplied
Picture / Supplied

What was it like doing an event of this scale? 
It was a joy from start to finish. The only challenges were getting from A to B quickly as the crowds were so deep everywhere and the roads were closed for security. Again it was a huge honour but it was also the wedding of two young people in love and trying to make it their own so I do feel protective of anything private about it.

What other event stands out for you?
A wedding in India in 2013 was magical. It was a revelation and a joy as the flowers grown there are limited (I refused to use imported blooms) but so abundant. Imagine bales of marigold heads and endless bundles of scented tuberose. Heaven! The setting, the climate and the warmth of the locals, too, of course. We had 75 workers and made almost 50,000m of threaded tuberose curtains. The Indian florists were so proud to be using their ancient skills.

Favourite blooms? 
I am so fickle with favourites! Give me seasonal and I am happy . . . the first snowdrops, the first sweetpeas or garden roses and then lily of the valley always melts my heart.

Picture / Supplied
Picture / Supplied

Top tips for an at-home florist? 
Don't try too hard. Have seasonal flowers and buy interesting containers to put them in. Think beyond the vase and also use plants in the house.

Your advice for seeking professional help? 
Pick someone whose work and ethos you admire and then trust them. Set the budget early so the designer knows their constraints and doesn't waste time with unattainable ideas. It works to everyone's advantage to be clear about money upfront.

What can guests expect from you at Cape Kidnappers? 
It's my first time in New Zealand so I can't wait to see what I will find in the area to use. Foraging in Hawke's Bay will totally make the arrangements . . . it's like research without the books or computer. I'm also looking forward to discovering Cape Kidnappers' look and design with a sense of the place in mind.

• Stylish Celebrations is on at The Farm, Cape Kidnappers, August 10-12. To find out more, visit

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